Wild Oats and Alfa Romeo to go head-to-head in SOLAS Big Boat Challenge

The super sized and super quick are quietly assembling in Sydney Harbour for one of the greatest days on the Australian sailing calendar, the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge maxi boat race.

The annual charity day offers the public a once-only opportunity to see some of this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours aspirants being put through their paces prior to the Boxing Day start of the summer ocean classic.

It also offers the many big boat crews gathered in Sydney at this time of year a clear runway and the chance to flex their muscles around the one of the world's most scenic waterways without having to manoeuvre around a fleet that typically includes much smaller and therefore slower boats.

The 16th edition of the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge will start off Steele Point at 12.30pm on Tuesday 15th December and will finish in spectacular fashion off the steps of the Opera House mid afternoon.

Bob Oatley's Reichel Pugh 100, Wild Oats XI, is deliberately being preserved for its attempt at five Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours wins in succession with the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge its one and only public outing in full race mode.

Wild Oats XI's biggest threat for Tuesday's 14 nautical mile sprint around a number of Sydney Harbour's best known landmarks is likely to be Neville Crichton's like maxi, Alfa Romeo, making its Australian racing comeback having been campaigned overseas since 2006.

“While it has no bearing on the outcome of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, it's a really fun day out for the crews,” said Crichton today.

“Typically whoever wins the start wins the race, trying to pass 100 footers on the harbour with all the wind shadows is pretty difficult.”

Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats' last encounter was in Sardinia more than two years ago when Wild Oats XI was dismasted. Given all the Rolex Sydney Hobart waterfront talk, there is plenty of interest in next Tuesday's outcome, even if skippers are talking down results from the day.

The crew of Sean Langman's Investec LOYAL is racing the clock to get the 100 footer to the start line. Working in two teams, the crew will be in the shipyard at Woolwich all weekend installing a new keel before the boat is re-launched, likely to be Monday.

Due to arrive in Sydney from its Victorian base this weekend, Grant Wharington's Jones 98 Etihad Stadium (Wild Thing), will take up its regular place on the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge start line, joining a second 98 footer, Peter Millard and John Honan's Lahana for the owners' event debut.

There will be the usual scuffle amongst the grand prix 60-footers, Peter Harburg's RP66 Black Jack, in Sydney for the Pittwater to Coffs race, going head to head with Oatley's near-sistership, Wild Oats X. Alan Brierty's RP62 Limit and Stephen Ainsworth's RP63 Loki, battle-ready after its recent Sydney Short Ocean Racing Championship win, should stay in close quarters around the tight harbour track.

Amongst the 50 footers, Bob Steel's 2008 Rolex Sydney Hobart overall winner, Quest, will take on Geoff Ross's enhanced RP55 Yendys, the two also preparing to line up for a crack at the prized Tattersall's Cup for the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Steel is a two-time overall race winner and Ross a one-time winner with a previous Yendys.

For the first time in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge history there will be two starts off the same line, a 1225hrs warning signal and 1230hrs start for the line honours and IRC division and a 1230hrs warning signal and 1235hrs start for the newly created PHS division.

Investec LOYAL, Lahana, Etihad Stadium, Wild Oats XI and Commodore Matt Allen's Jones 70, Ichi Ban, will each carry two guests, the successful bidders from the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge eBay auction, which ends Friday 11 December.

The race committee will on the day select from two courses, one a 14 mile course and the other a 12 mile course around Sydney Harbour, ensuring a windward start. From Steele Point the fleet will complete two and a half laps of the southern end of the harbour.

Spectators are encouraged to view the action from the water or the many foreshore vantage points including Bradley's Head, Darling Point, Mrs. Macquarie's Chair and the Opera House, which backdrops the finish line.

A spectator ferry is also available and bookings can be made through CYCA reception on 8292 7800 or email reception@cyca.com.au

The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge and Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours contest will be previewed on Monday, 14 December, when a representative from each of the seven 100 and 98 footers being prepped for Boxing Day will meet at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia for a model boat race in the pond, starting at midday.

– Lisa Ratcliff, Rolex Sydney Hobart Media

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